Heading Logo


PTC Baseball Report: Belief leads to big wins for first-place Rovers baseball team

By JONAH ROSENBLUM | Staff Writer Published: April 21, 2017 4:00 AM

Rootstown's week, arguably the biggest in recent program history, can be distilled to two wins and two bus rides.

The victories against Lake Center Christian, a 2-0 Monday win in Hartville and a 12-3 Tuesday triumph in Rootstown, changed the complexion of the PTC County race and established the Rovers as true contenders in the County chase.

The bus rides were an equally unforgettable part of Rootstown's story.

On Tuesday's drive down to Hartville, Rovers coach Keith Waesch was concerned. Waesch, also the athletic director at Rootstown, is fairly tolerant as far as goofing around is concerned. Anyone who has watched him gamely deal with his golfers' endless stream of jokes in a soccer press box can attest to that. That said, the bus to Lake Center Christian resembled a "comedy act" or the office "lunch room," Waesch said, with plenty of chatter out of right field, not having anything to do with the upcoming game.

"Halfway down on the bus ride, I had to raise my voice that it was important that we start focusing on the task at hand," Waesch said. "I basically let them know that I'm not the coach that's satisfied with finishing second or third or fourth. I can accept defeat, but I have a hard time accepting defeat when I know the talent is there."

[Article continues below]

That, Waesch explained, has been one of the Rovers' biggest battles all year -- making sure they know just how good they can be. After all, Rootstown went just 6-6 in last year's PTC County. For weeks, Waesch said, his coaching staff has hammered home just how good the Rovers are and just how good they can be.

Even so, when the team got to Hartville and began warming up for the series opener, Waesch continued to detect a lack of focus from his team.

"Five minutes before the first pitch, I kind of had to get their attention and let them know that they belonged on the field with Lake Center Christian," Waesch said. "Not only did they belong, they were very capable of winning."

Dan Simons, making just his third start of the season due to some back issues, proved Waesch right with a complete-game, 12-strikeout shutout. Blessed with a mid-eighties fastball, Simons can be absolutely lethal so long as his curveball is working.

"When he can locate that curveball and get it in the zone, he's a devastating pitcher for a high school baseball player to face," Waesch said. "I believe he's starting to settle in, and he can kind of leave you shaking your head when you leave home plate."

[Article continues below]

If Simons (2-0, 1.24 ERA) left the opposition shaking its head in Hartville, the Rovers left Waesch shaking with laughter on the bus ride home as they belted out "Sweet Caroline" in celebration of their momentous victory.

"I think on that ride home and shortly after the game, kids started to buy into the fact that, 'Hey, the coaching staff might be right. We might be a talented team that can compete for a championship,'" Waesch said.

It was a good time to start thinking that way with James Kontur coming to Rootstown. After compiling a 0.23 ERA last season, the Tigers ace was off to a similarly untouchable start to the 2017 campaign, with a 0.33 ERA through his first three starts, including 32 strikeouts in 21 innings. Waesch's Rovers were well aware of just how good the opposing pitcher was -- several recalled taking part in last year's game in which Kontur struck out 12 Rootstown hitters in a 2-0 Lake Center Christian victory.

"We have a lot of respect for James Kontur, a ton of respect, but at the same time, I want to let my kids know he's another high school pitcher," Waesch said. "If they step in the batter's box with confidence, they're capable of hitting."

Earlier this season, after Rootstown batted .193 while going 2-2 in its first four games, Waesch had asked his team to be more aggressive at the plate. The Rovers responded by hitting .340 over seven straight wins.

"Instead of getting behind in counts as we did in the first four games of the year, now we are looking to swing the bat early in the count and it makes a big difference," Waesch said. "That makes a huge difference when the hitter can pick his pitch as opposed to being at the mercy of the pitcher and being forced to hit the pitcher's pitch."

That aggressive approach shone through against Kontur. In Rootstown's three-run first, three Rovers batters made first-pitch contact, resulting in two hits and another hitter reaching on an error. The Rovers scored five more in the third. All in all, of the first 13 Rootstown hitters, only three allowed themselves to fall behind in the count.

The Rovers also showed their depth on the hill Tuesday, as Ben Shank, off to a stupendous start to his sophomore season (1-1, 2.33 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 18 innings), wasn't feeling it and came out early.

No worries, Matt McGrath came in to finish the job for the Rovers.

Now 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA, McGrath is a remarkable story in his own right. Last year, he didn't pitch at all -- for the junior varsity. This year, Waesch, upon taking over the program, told his team that it was a "fresh start" for Rootstown baseball, and he asked his players what positions they wanted to play. When he asked who wanted to give pitching a shot, 20 of 30 players raised their hands. McGrath, who hadn't pitched in years, was one of them.

"He's really been a bright spot and a great addition to our pitching staff," Waesch said. "He's probably a No. 3 kid in our rotation that probably for several teams in our area would be their No. 1."

With a team ERA of 1.63, first place firmly in its possession and a sweep of Lake Center Christian under its belt, Rootstown is in strong position nearing the midpoint of the season. Of course, the Rovers, after last year's 6-6 County campaign, have to deal with unchartered waters, being the chased as opposed to the chaser.

"We understand we are in a good position right now," Waesch said. "We also know that the job isn't done."


Rate this article

Do you want to leave a comment?   Please Log In or Register to comment.